The Complete Guide to Planning Your Wedding Reception

This is when the party really begins—your wedding reception!

It’s time to relax, dance and celebrate.

At this point in the day, your coordinator and DJ will most likely be the ones ensuring that everything stays on schedule, that way you can focus on enjoying the night.

Like most things, proper planning before your reception will help lead to amazing results.

Here are some things to think about while planning to help you get the most out of your wedding reception.

Make your wedding reception your own

Your family and friends will most likely give you a lot of input as you go about wedding planning. (Heather and I know, we’re in the process of planning our own wedding!)

Though they mean well, at the end of the day, it’s your party.

Make it your own and don’t feel pressured by those around you!

If you want to have a special dance with your grandparents, do it! Thinking about a donut bar instead of a wedding cake? Why not?

Make your reception a reflection of your values and don’t feel tied to traditions.

RGNY Wedding Reception

Indoors or outdoors?

When deciding on your reception space, you may be debating between an outdoor or indoor location.

Both are great choices, and each one has a very different look and feel.

Outdoor wedding receptions

As someone who’s a nature enthusiast, I love outdoor receptions.

An outdoor space feels much more open than the confined walls of an indoor location.

You’ll also be able to take advantage of the beautiful views your venue or location has to offer.

With that being said, an outdoor reception can be more challenging to plan. Here are a few things to consider:

Be mindful of rain

This is the biggest potential drawback of an outdoor reception.

Mother nature will do her thing regardless of what you’ve planned, so always have a backup plan in case it rains.

Aside from rain, it’s also important to consider the time of year and how warm/cool the weather will be.

You don’t want your guests melting on the dance floor at a midday reception in the middle of July, for example!

Turks and Caicos Destination Wedding Reception

Include rain plans in your budget (as needed)

Being prepared for rain can add a bit more to your wedding budget, so keep that in mind when planning.

Work with your wedding coordinator/venue beforehand to have a tent on call.

This way if there is rain in the forecast you can easily have it set up and ready to go a few days before your wedding.

This gives you less to worry about as you get closer to your date.

Check if background noise could be an issue

Depending on where your venue is located, you might also have to worry about external sounds interfering with your event (think traffic, planes, etc.).

Certain locations may also have a noise curfew, so talk to your venue if you’re looking to have a late party.

Indoor wedding receptions

There’s no doubt that the logistics of an outdoor reception space are more complicated than hosting your reception indoors.

If this all sounds too complicated, there are many advantages to hosting your reception indoors.

Crummy weather? No problem!

Perhaps the biggest advantage is this. An indoor reception space ensures that you won’t need to worry about rain in the forecast as your wedding day approaches.

Adirondack Dancing

A more intimate approach

Having a confined space indoors can create a warm atmosphere that feels more intimate than an open outdoor space.

Easy access to bathrooms

An indoor space often makes it easier for guests to find the bathrooms. No one wants to go for a hike to use the restroom.

Avoid colored uplighting (at all costs!)

Regardless of what you choose (indoors or outdoors), here’s a pro tip for amazing reception photographs: Avoid vibrant-colored uplighting.

Many DJs will offer this option for you and some include it in their standard packages.

Although it may seem like a cool addition, it can be a nightmare for your photographs.

It’s difficult to remove the color cast those lights create in post production. This can cause skin tones to look purple or green or blue (whatever color the uplighting is.) I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want purple skin in any pictures of me!

Staying away from colored uplighting will ensure everybody’s skin color looks natural and your photographs look timeless.

Adirondack Wedding

Live music or DJ?

This can be a tough decision—should you hire a DJ or live band for your reception music?

Generally speaking, a live band is going to cost more money than a DJ, since five or more musicians are necessary to cover all of the different instruments.

There is also a space issue. If you’re considering a live band, make sure your venue has an area for the musicians to set up.

If you’re planning on hosting your reception at a smaller location, a live band may not be the best option.

Pros and cons

Though I may be biased (I am a musician myself), I feel nothing beats a good live band when it comes to getting people up and dancing. A live band usually has an added bonus of an MC (usually the lead singer) who does announcements and keeps the energy level up.

Live music is infectious and a group of solid musicians will wow and dazzle your guests.

A DJ, however, can often play more variety, from all different genres of music.

It’s usually not hard for a DJ to find the songs you’re looking for, where a live band will often need to learn them if they’re not in their repertoire.

A solid DJ/MC combination can read the crowd and keep the party moving well throughout the night.

Both are great choices, with different appeals. Weigh the options and choose the best one for you!

The Old Field Club Wedding Reception

Have a “no play” list

Regardless of your choice in band or DJ, make sure you give them a “do not play” list.

This way you don’t have to worry they’ll play songs you really don’t want to hear during your reception.

Prepping the setup & keeping guests engaged

If you can, try to take your guests into consideration when planning the flow of your reception timeline.

If you have a lot of elderly guests that may not be staying until the very end, for example, you can schedule the cake cutting at a relatively early time so that they can be a part of it.

Chat with your coordinator about how you can plan your reception in a way that will keep guests engaged and moving all night!

Also, plan your centerpieces, welcome table, etc., well before the wedding date and show your coordinator (or a family friend) how you’d like to set them up so that you aren’t even thinking about those things the day of.

W Loft Wedding Cake

Wedding reception photography coverage

Many wedding photographers have packages that include various amounts of hourly coverage.

If you’re considering a package that doesn’t have coverage until the end of the reception, that’s ok!

You can work with your photographer to plan your timeline so you have at least one hour of dancing photographed, with all of the important formalities concluded by that time.

I typically recommend at least two hours of reception coverage.

The guests who dance during the first hour will still be dancing in the third hour—one hour of dancing will be enough time to really capture the joy of your reception.

Not to mention, as the night goes on, people get sweaty and a little crazy—most people are ok with that part of the night not being documented 😂!

Wedding reception Planning

Consider a sparkler exit

I absolutely love capturing sparkler exits!

These are usually some of my favorite images from a wedding day and a perfect way to end the night (not to mention close out your wedding album).

If you’re thinking about doing a controlled exit, here are a few of my top tips:

Make sure your venue allows sparklers

Before doing any planning, touch base with your venue to make sure they allow sparklers on the premises.

Buy longer, 36″ sparklers

I once was a guest at a wedding where all we had where the smaller-sized sparklers.

Everyone’s sparkler went out before the couple was able to walk down!

Don’t let that happen to you—make sure you purchase the longer-sized sparklers so they burn the entire time.

Make them easy to light

Here’s a pro tip: Assign two people (one to each side) on “sparkler lighting duty.”

Give them each a candle and have them go down the line, lighting two sparklers at a time.

This will speed up the process, giving you more time to enjoy them while they are lit.

Sparkler Exit

Give each guest two sparklers

Have them light the second sparkler when their first one is about half way finished.

This will not only add more light to the scene, but will ensure you have even more time if their first sparkler goes out.

Have a place to dispose of the used sticks

Have a few pails of water for guests to dispose of their sparklers once they’re done.

I also recommend a separate pail for guests to put their unused sparklers as well.

What to do if you have limited photography coverage

If you’re set on doing a sparkler exit but your photography coverage ends before the end of the night, here’s a tip:

Plan a faux exit with your bridal party and a few family members earlier in the evening.

This also allows your photographer to have more control over these shots (because it’s a smaller group of people), and the party NEVER has to stop!

Most people won’t even notice that the bride and groom are missing for a few minutes.

In your photos, it will be almost impossible to tell everyone isn’t there waving sparklers and sending you off.

Doing your exit this way allows you to save money and still capture amazing sparkler exit images.

You may also like…


Want more wedding inspiration? Check out these boards on Pinterest.

We're wedding photographers who believe how you feel on your wedding day is just as important as taking incredible pictures.

As a wedding photographer & filmmaker based in both New York City & Southern California, Tom has captured close to 200 weddings. Together, we love to celebrate with you and your friends on one of the most exciting days of your lives. It brings us such joy to capture your wedding in an artistic way, not only telling your wedding story, but also making sure to bring warmth and friendliness (and a few laughs!) to the day.